A valley of dry bones.
A life broken down
Hot wind swirls the dust into the air, diffusing the sun, invading lungs. Any move to reposition, to turn your back to the wind shifts your uneven station. Try for stable footing and kick up more sand, amplifying desperate rasping cough. Pull your shirt over your mouth, try to filter out debris, find the good air. All around you are bones and little else, lifeless, evidence of the Final Destination.
The building didn’t excite me. I figured if I was going to visit another church, I should at least make it worth my time and do something different, but if the building was any indicator, I was walking into something that had a different name but was just the same ol’, same ol’.
People wore name tags.
The former pastor latched onto me and told me (three times — he’s getting on in years) the same four tidbits about his wife and about the woman playing the piano. He also hugged me, which made me wonder if he thought I was someone he knew instead of a complete stranger.
They had kneelers. We didn’t use them in this service, which both disappointed and relieved me.
The pastor wore a collar.
The guy who sat in front of me must have had some chips stashed in his pocket, Napoleon Dynamite style. The smell of cool ranch kept wafting back to me.
They passed the peace. They did numerous call and response-type readings. They did a Kyrie Eleison (and not down the road where I must travel). The congregation fully participated in the service, if only to pay attention and stand or sit as dictated by the bulletins in our hands.
Sun lit the huge stained glass window, which hadn’t been visible from where I had parked and entered the building. That window was a form of worship in itself, the way it painted bright color blotches on the wall and filled the whole room, all the way up to the soaring roof, with gentle light.
I didn’t expect to have any need met that morning. I just wanted a change of pace from the mega-church I attend, wanted a sense of rhythm and tradition. I wanted to be reminded that the Church is wide and the little mousehole I inhabit is not indicative of the mansion of faith expression.
I didn’t expect God to show up — I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on Him.
Maybe it’s a normal passage used during the Lenten season.
Maybe it is dictated by church calendar or a book of the order of service that this denomination uses for all services.
Maybe it was a fluke.
That morning, I came to church having just worked through an art journal that focused on a passage in Ezekiel 37, the valley of the dry bones.
[Let me just say, as a general rule, I don’t spend a lot of time in Ezekiel — or any of the minor prophets for that matter.]
Here, let me show you what came out of that attempt:
So when the pastor (a woman, also something different (and refreshing) that you don’t see all the time) began her sermon and focused on Ezekiel 37, the valley of the dry bones, my heart gave a start.
Why, out of all the entirety of the Bible, was she working from this text on the one and only time I’d ever stepped into her church?
It is so easy to concern ourselves with the micro, the zoom-in, the close-up. We get so focused on the inner workings of one system that we forget about the whole organism.
In terms of church, it is really easy for me to focus on evangelicalism. It’s what I know. It informs my worldview in ways I’m not even aware of. It’s the subculture I’ve lived in my whole life. I can’t stress enough the ways this influences me without me meaning it to — it’s the same way you can’t hear your own accent when you’re around other people who have the same accent. Only when you are around someone with a different accent do you become aware that there are different ways of speaking…and you still think you don’t have an accent!
There have been so many hard things happening in the evangelical world and so many ways in which I feel like the entrance door keeps shrinking and shrinking, even for those who have been allowed in previously. There seems to be less and less room for conversation, less consideration of the conflicting sides of issues (without simply waiting until it is your turn to make your argument) and the merits of a differing conclusion, and suspicion about the true state of someone’s faith should they want to have these discussions. It is disheartening, demoralizing, and to be honest, it makes me want to crawl into bed for a month of Sundays.
This is why it is so essential to zoom out.
As much as the evangelical church has a corner on the “right way” to believe, there are other, long-standing (longer-standing, in fact) expressions of faith. These are usually viewed with condescension in evangelical corners, or a raised eyebrow about the validity of the parishioner’s real relationship with God, but these non-evangelical congregations tap into something evangelicalism doesn’t — a sense of history, tradition, and world-wide connectedness. There is a whole history of church movements that I am largely ignorant of, and each movement has an arc — a rise and a diminishing — within the larger story of faith.
I don’t delude myself into thinking that all the answers are simply in a different denomination, something mainline or even non-Protestant (is there anything that is non-Protestant that isn’t Catholic???). I know enough about church life to know that the church, whatever church that is, is made up of humanly human people. There is no perfect church.
However, as a visitor, upon hearing the pastor preach on a fairly obscure verse that I had been focused on in the days leading up to that visit, I have to tell you that I was reminded of the size of God, of His movement and activity in places I will never know about, in people I’ll never encounter, in expressions I might not recognize at all.
God’s crazy like that.
And me, with all my angst and grappling and raging, I am just one dry bone that God breathed into and brought back to life. There is a whole valley around me, other bones God is working with, breathing into, bestowing His Spirit on. He is big enough to handle it.
Thank God for that.
What is your faith tradition? Does it satisfy your desires for expression of your faith? What are ways you incorporate your faith into daily life?